Building Your Personal Brand to Achieve Breakthrough Success: A Crash Course in Executive Presence for Leaders
One of the fastest ways to rise to the top in your career is to manage your executive presence by defining and establishing a distinctive and compelling personal brand. Image management and personal branding is a ‘hot topic’ but still nebulous. You can pay lip service to making a personal brand, but few people know how to actually make it a reality.
‘Branding’ became a big buzzword in the late 90’s. At the time I was working in Silicon Valley with companies like National Semiconductor, for whom ‘brand’ was the key to differentiating themselves from the other chip makers. As ‘branding’ evolved, it became clear that the successful brands were going beyond logo and colour palette to brand attributes, brand behaviour for employees, and branded experiences.
As my executive coaching work has evolved, I’ve found the same principle we use to brand a Fortune 100 company can be applied to branding a single person. The net effect, however, is the same – creating focus and achieving results.
Surprisingly, personal branding still remains a mystery for most leaders, even those who understand the importance of branding a company or a product.
Women, in particular, need to pay attention to their personal brand because it’s easy to become a cliché, to blend in, or to be categorized in an unhelpful way. To stand out, make your brand resonate. Are you Microsoft or are you Apple? Are you a Mini or a Mercedes? All of these brand are evocative – and so should you be.
Why you need a strong brand
Having a strong, authentic and compelling personal presence helps you reach your career objectives by:
• Increasing your visibility and value
• Increasing your confidence
• Enhancing credibility and authority
• Differentiating you and setting expectations
• Influencing and attracting others to you
• Creating trust and emotional attachment
A personal brand attracts success
It’s about magnetism, really. You create your personal brand, put it out there, and then see what is magnetized toward you in the form of people and opportunities. This is a critical strategic move fore each professional, yet few people actually do this – either because they don’t know how or because they don’t realize how important it is for their success.
Everyone needs a strong personal brand
We usually think about personal brands with entrepreneurs, celebrities or high profile individuals. However, anyone who wants to rise up the ranks, especially women, needs a clear, noticeable brand.
Bob Garfield, a columnist, talks about corporate brands: “When done properly, branding represents the magical convergence of recognition and meaning. Brands stand for something. Pepsi stands for youth…DeBeers diamonds are forever.”
How to define your personal brand
The same applies to a personal brand. What do you stand for? What do you represent?
First, start by defining: what is a brand? In a corporate/product sense, ‘brand’ is something a company authentically is and aspires to become.
In personal branding, the same elements of authenticity and aspiration also apply. A personal brand is your persona or public face. It’s your reputation. It’s the accumulation of your experiences that lead to others recognizing you, choosing you and remaining loyal to you.
Your personal brand is your ‘storefront’
Using the iceberg metaphor, your personal brand is what’s reflected to the outside world – your surfaces and how you present yourself. But for it to be truly compelling and resonate, what’s under the water matters just as much, or even more. What is your mission? Purpose? Vision? Values? Goals? Objectives?
Being very clear about what you want and who you are helps establish a clear personal brand.
What you reflect above the water should be ‘integrous’ – that means your ideal personal brand should be aligned, authentic, compelling and aspirational.
What’s your brand?
Start by answering key questions about yourself: Who are you, really? Who do you want to be? What is your story? How are you different from the pack in a meaningful way? How can you effectively convey that difference to those whom you want to influence?
Here are 4 brand elements every person define to help create a powerful personal brand:
1. What is your ‘Essence’? Consciously choose One Thing that differentiates you and is important.
The key to personal branding is to be single minded. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, figure out the one simple thing that you will do with excellence, passion, imagination and fanatical consistency. This is the ‘one thing’ that would establish you and be fabulous for your career.
Some good starters to define your ‘one thing’: read ‘Strengthsfinder 2.0’ and take the online quiz. Choose one of your strengths and make it your focus. It could be strategic. Or responsibility. Or going empathy. Or attention to detail. Or future thinking. You decide what it is and focusing on one personal strength that you can be known for will put you ahead of the pack.
Ask yourself the following questions as you decide on your personal brand essence:
• Is this consistent with my personal values, what I stand for?
• Does this differentiate me from the rest of the pack?
• Is this important to key individuals (my boss, the marketplace, etc) and will it resonate with these people?
• Can I consistently deliver this ‘one thing’?
• Am I willing to commit the resources and time to be excellent in this area?
• Is this an area where I naturally excel and it would be hard for someone else to be better than me?
• Can I tell a compelling story about this – a personal narrative?
• Can I sustain being this ‘one thing’ for a long term?
• Will this ‘one thing’ attract the right type of people into my life, professionally and personally?
2. Define your brand Persona and areas to refine or polish using the Five Facets
Consider what it would take to be the best in the world and deliver your ‘one thing’. In branding we call this ‘Persona’ – so if a brand, literally, came to live like an avatar, what would it reflect?
When you consider your brand Persona, ask yourself two questions: Who do you want to be to reflect yourself to the outside world? Who do you not want to be? Both questions are equally important as knowing what you don’t want is often just as important as defining what you want to project.
Look at your personal brand from the Five Facets perspective:
Facet 1 – Visual: Consider your appearance. What should you wear? How should you style yourself? What should your eye contact and eye movement be like? Do you have any facial expressions that are distracting? What do your ‘artifacts’ (phone, pen, watch, handbag) say about you? What about your social media ‘persona’ and online identity?
Facet 2 – Verbal: How should you speak? What key words should you use – in person and from an SEO perspective? Consider your pitch, tone, rate, pauses and how you can use your voice as a tool. Do you have any distracting speech patterns? Are there vocalizations or filler words that are inconsistent with your ideal brand? What about cursing or swearing – how does that fit with your brand? When you stand and deliver a presentation, do you represent your brand well? Does your listening style reflect your ‘one thing’?
Facet 3 – Kinethetic: How would you have to behave? What should your body language reflect? How should you stand? Do you need to be warmer or cooler in your energy? Should you be more aggressive or more passive? How do you modulate your energy? What gestures may you subconsciously be using that are distracting or unhelpful? Are you conscious of touch and proxemics (how close you stand to others) and how it impacts your brand?
Facet 4 – Sociability: Are you polished? Do you feel at ease in social settings? Do you need to reflect on your manners and social graces? Are you appropriately behaved in all settings? Are you aware of cross-culture issues and how you’re coming across with individuals from other areas?
Faceet 5 – Positioning/Presence: Can you feel it when you make an instant ‘click’ with someone? How can you amplify or utilize your ‘one thing’ to make that instantaneous connection more powerful and authentic? How can you manage your environment to bring your brand to life? What would you need to learn? How would you need to change what you do to become the living embodiment of that character trait?
3. Create a Plan to polish your personal brand
Make your brand a reality by creating an action plan, one facet at a time. It may seem a touch mechanical to proceed this way but make no mistake, personal brands are much more quickly developed if you approach them systematically and methodically, rather than just hoping that you will create a brand reputation over time.
Follow these five steps to put your personal branding plan in place:
1. Focus your brand. Which aspect of your career do you want to focus on, first? This could be a person you want to influence, a piece of work you want to accomplish, a goal you want to achieve. Be very specific.
2. Bring your brand to life. To bring your brand essence to life, decide which facet you will work on, first. Think about how you’re currently projecting yourself in this facet. You need to be ruthlessly honest with yourself for this to work – and that requires bravery. However, there’s no point in deceiving yourself if you want to really make progress.
3. Reveal your blind spots. How will you reveal your blind spot(s) so you know how you’re currently being seen? The Johari Window is a great model to understand how ‘blind spots’ work and can inadvertently sabotage you.
o You need to find a way to reveal what is ‘known to others’ and ‘unknown to self’ – the blind spot – if you’re going to make progress. This requires additional bravery and likely asking others for input.
o Ideally, you should find a ‘blind spot buddy’ to give you feedback and input. Look for someone who knows you in your work and social atmospheres – someone who is supportive, respectful, and who you trust to give you unvarnished truth. This should be someone who is more than just an ‘acquaintance’ but who has ‘skin the game’ and is mutually dependent.
o You can also do a quick ‘360 degree’ review by asking five people two simple questions: ‘What is the general perception of me?’ and ‘What could I do differently that would most impact my success?’ Then LISTEN and absorb with appreciation, without being defensive or rebutting, and try to see the bigger picture and what you can learn and gain from this to help you move ahead.
4. Take steps. What will you Stop-Start-Continue doing to polish this facet? Make three post its – label them Stop, Start, Continue – and put them somewhere visible. Consider what you may be doing now that is inadvertently stopping your progress. This is what you want to STOP doing. Think of something small that you could do to make an immediate difference. This is what you START. What’s already working for you now? When are you getting good feedback? This is what you want to CONTINUE.
5. Check in. How will you know if you’re making progress? Mutual relationships are a good way of keeping a check on how you’re progressing. Set a time to check in with your feedback buddy and discuss your goals, how you’re doing, and get ideas for your next steps.
4. Look for Role Models and consider ‘what’s in it for them’?
Now that you’re clear on your personal brand and have developed a programme for making it a reality, ask yourself who best embodies this brand already?
Who in your industry or in other industries exemplifies your ‘ideal’ brand – demonstrating similar values and attributes? Maybe there’s not just one person – but a combination of aspects of two or three people who would comprise your ideal personal brand.
Study these people, meet them if you can, and strive to emulate them.
Consider what are your ‘brand benefits’?
As you do this, consider the benefits of their brand that you find compelling and that you could adopt for yourself. This consists of two elements: functional benefits (what you give them as a clear, functional benefit such as a skill or product) and emotional benefits (more intrinsic – as a result of working with you, how should other people feel?
Your personal brand promise is the final step
The drives toward defining your brand Promise – which is who you strive to be, what you’re committed to and what others can expect from you, every time. Complete this sentence: “I am committed to…” and you’ll have your Promise.
Define your personal brand and magnetize success!
So, those are the basics to creating a powerful, compelling personal brand. Few people do even one of these steps, which is why most people have no personal branding at all. If you can complete all four steps, you will have a brand that will put you in a great position and magnetize the success you want.